Why a project's matrices matter to you

MATRICES WITHIN A typical construction schedule are not, contrary to popular belief, a Bulgarian remake of a popular Keanu Reeves movie. They are a series of often slightly illogical but necessary, sometimes consecutive and concurrent linear task work. These tasks are broken out in timelines weighted with specific job burden milestones with resource allocation nodes assigned to them. Is this muddy

MATRICES WITHIN A typical construction schedule are not, contrary to popular belief, a Bulgarian remake of a popular Keanu Reeves movie. They are a series of often slightly illogical but necessary, sometimes consecutive and concurrent linear task work. These tasks are broken out in timelines weighted with specific job burden milestones with resource allocation nodes assigned to them. Is this muddy enough of a definition for you?

You have to be able to understand what matrices are and why they're important — and they are important — but their significance is usually blown way out of proportion to the predicted and hoped-for success of the job. If you're new to the project management game, you still need to get your head around this concept because others in the game will use your ignorance of matrices against you and your company's interest.

The concept of matrices within either a simple Gantt chart or more complicated Critical Path Method schedule usually begins with these assumptions: The job in question was estimated perfectly; the pre-construction phases will be done perfectly; and all the work to complete the job will be done on-time perfectly by perfect human beings.

You may stop laughing at any time.

In real life, the value of understanding the interdependencies of the job matrices begins about one minute after the contracts are signed, when the job by default is already behind schedule and over budget and it's cover-your-assets time.

All estimates, even those you do yourself, require a suspension of disbelief and a blind-faith guess as to how few hours your guys would actually take to do this job without being either too optimistic or pessimistic. When you create the estimate to bid on the job, you create the first matrix layer.

When you order equipment and set delivery deadlines, you create the second matrix layer. When you work with your bosses to allocate eventual field manpower, you create a third matrix. When you actually put them in the field, a fourth is created. When you start buying miscellaneous parts not part of the original estimate, you create a fifth one, etc. The logic is that you can't build a spaceship and fly to the moon without first knowing where you're going and something close to how you intend to actually get there.

When you take into account that all other contractors and subs on the job are creating their own matrices of progress and succession — whatever the GC or CM put in the pro forma schedule be damned — you begin to understand why being able to visualize the entire job from groundbreaking to topping out for all trades is important. You need to be able to see the order within the apparent chaos of multiple tasks being done by multiple trades both concurrently and consecutively.

Otherwise, you won't be able to assign field labor efficiently, and you will also screw up paperwork and delivery dates on your own end because you can't anticipate the actual as opposed to wishlist milestone dates. This can easily result in possible legal consequences, especially when you fail to meet required delivery dates.

No matter what you're creating, a warehouse or a high-tech research lab, when you create anything you create a series of matrix interdependencies to and from in-house and outside resources and influences. By being able to follow the workflows that allow multiple matrices to exist not just on top of one another but simultaneously within one another's spaces, you can see where potential trouble spots will form before they do. This allows you to figure out where and when you can take legitimate shortcuts and not negatively affect job quality.

Matrices within construction are not a hidden wasteland of untold destruction disguised by creating a mass hallucination so that a handful of power brokers can live like kings above it all at the expense of common working stiffs living in squalor below them. Well, actually, they are, but that's another topic for another column!

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/367-7488, or via e-mail at hkcraig@ yahoo.com. His Website is www.hkentcraig.com